A jury on Friday found a motorist accused of texting while driving in a fatal 2012 crash not guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter, instead convicting her of the lesser charge of manslaughter with ordinary negligence.
Anna Marie Reynosa, 22, had faced up to six years in prison if convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter. She now faces a maximum of one year in jail on the misdemeanor conviction.
The case marked the first time in Kern County a motorist was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter in connection with texting while driving.
Reynosa turned and hugged her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ernest Hinman, after the verdict was read. She held him as she cried.
Also crying were family and friends of Charla Wilkins, the 20-year-old motorcyclist killed when Reynosa crashed into her the evening of April 14, 2012.
Many family members kept their heads bowed as they sat through the remainder of the proceedings.
“No one wins here,” Hinman said afterward.
He said Reynosa feels terrible about Wilkins’ death, and has since the crash first occurred. He said it was a “very emotional” trial and he thinks the jury did the right thing in finding her guilty of the lesser charge.
Prosecutor Esther Schlaerth directed questions to Supervising Deputy District Attorney Michael J. Yraceburn, who said he’s disappointed in the outcome but appreciates the hard work and attention of the jury. He said there’s nothing they would have done differently.
Yraceburn and several defense attorneys attended the reading of the verdict, which followed an emotional, at times contentious 14-day trial..
Reynosa’s family declined to comment after the jury had its say, and Wilkins’ family said they’re reserving comment until Reynosa’s June 26 sentencing.
The Wilkins family had stood in a circle, bowed their heads and held hands as they prayed before entering the courtroom.
Aaron Hanna, a close friend of Wilkins, wrote a message on Facebook sometime before the verdict was read describing how much he misses her “soft heart, beautiful smile and grit tough as nails.”
“I truly feel you around all of us right now, I see you helping everyone especially Casie and your mom and siblings through this season in life with your strong will and confidence you always carried,” Hanna wrote. “Man, I’m so excited to see you one day again, my friend.”
When Reynosa left the courtroom, a man dressed in a military uniform held her close and tried to prevent photographers from getting a shot of her. The two walked quickly down the hallway, down an escalator and out of the courthouse.
Police estimated Reynosa was traveling 63-68 mph when her Toyota Tacoma crashed into the back of 20-year-old Charla Wilkins’ motorcycle at the intersection of Jewetta Avenue and Reina Road. The posted speed limit is 45 mph.
Wilkins had been stopped at a stop sign. Reynosa ran the stop sign, never applying her brakes.
The pickup struck the motorcycle with enough force to cause the bike to remain upright with the back portion lodged under the truck. The conjoined vehicles traveled 331.6 feet before coming to a stop.
Wilkins suffered numerous injuries, including numerous abrasions, broken bones and a severed spine. She was pronounced dead shortly afterward.
The crash occurred at 8:37 p.m. The night was dark but clear, and the roadway was well-lit.
Reynosa admitted seeing Wilkins a half mile ahead of her. She also told officers she’s aware of the stop sign at the intersection as she drives that stretch of roadway daily.
She told the first officers to respond she'd been on her cellphone when she crashed. Interviewed shortly afterward by Bakersfield police Detective Chris Bagby, she gave a variety of different responses as to what she'd been doing with the phone before impact, including: looking at the phone as a matter of habit; examining a received text message or phone call; in the process of receiving or sending a message; and looking down at her phone but not manipulating it.
Investigators found a partial text message draft to a “Nick” on Reynosa’s phone. There’s no time stamp on the draft, but prosecutors said circumstantial evidence indicated Reynosa was writing that message at the time of the crash.
Reynosa told investigators she didn’t know who “Nick” was.
Hinman’s defense hinged in part on the lack of a time stamp on the draft. Without the time stamp, he told jurors, it’s impossible to know when that message was being written.
Hinman called witnesses to testify regarding Reynosa’s speed. An accident reconstruction specialist estimated Reynosa was traveling 45 mph or less at the time of impact.
Another witness called by Hinman testified there are a number of factors that could have led to the crash other than being distracted by a cellphone.